New Year's Poem

By Margaret Avison 1918–2007 Margaret Avison
The Christmas twigs crispen and needles rattle
Along the window-ledge.
             A solitary pearl
Shed from the necklace spilled at last week’s party
Lies in the suety, snow-luminous plainness
Of morning, on the window-ledge beside them.   
And all the furniture that circled stately
And hospitable when these rooms were brimmed
With perfumes, furs, and black-and-silver
Crisscross of seasonal conversation, lapses
Into its previous largeness.
             I remember   
Anne’s rose-sweet gravity, and the stiff grave
Where cold so little can contain;
I mark the queer delightful skull and crossbones
Starlings and sparrows left, taking the crust,
And the long loop of winter wind
Smoothing its arc from dark Arcturus down
To the bricked corner of the drifted courtyard,
And the still window-ledge.
             Gentle and just pleasure
It is, being human, to have won from space
This unchill, habitable interior
Which mirrors quietly the light
Of the snow, and the new year.

"New Year’s Poem" by Margaret Avison. Reprinted from Always Now: The Collected Poems (in three volumes) by Margaret Avison, by permission of the Porcupine’s Quill. © The Estate of Margaret Avison, 2003.

Source: Always Now: The Collected Poems (The Porcupine's Quill, 2003)

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Poet Margaret Avison 1918–2007


Holidays New Year

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Margaret Avison: “New Year's Poem”

How to balance image, thought, and story to convey the numinous.

By Linda Bierds

I have always been drawn to poems that contain, within their meditative movements, a hint of narrative and a textured visual richness. Certainly Margaret Avison’s lovely “New Year’s Poem” holds that triple attraction: deeply meditative, it is a feast for the eyes, while its delicate narrative allows me to sample, again and again, a formal seasonal party and its quiet aftermath. Still, it is not Avison’s difficult balance of image, thought, and story that I most admire in “New Year’s Poem”: It is her remarkable achievements with structure. Using fir needles and starlings, Arcturus and a single, luminous pearl, Avison has crafted journeys: vertical, circular, concentric, diagonal, temporal, and interior.

From our position beside the poem’s speaker, we follow her gaze—as we follow Avison’s almost stair-stepping initial lines—down to a windowledge and a solitary pearl, a pearl that in turn has spilled down, not only from the neck of its wearer but from the past. Where has it landed? Farther down, it seems, in the suet and snow. But no, it is here, back up on the windowledge, sharing its glow with the glow of the present morning.

The pearl’s vertical journey through space is mirrored twice at the poem’s center, as the speaker turns her gaze from the apartment’s interior down through the window to the birdclaw-etched snow, then up to Acturus, then down once again to the courtyard, and up to the windowledge—while time shifts, as it did for the pearl, from the past of memory to the present morning. What movements we’ve experienced in nine lines!—from the grave to the celestial, then again, in miniature, from the skull-and-crossbones aftermath of the birds to the amber crusts of bread now lifting within their lifting bodies.

And what of those “waist” lines? Those quiet, centered moments that, taken together, echo haiku? I’m reminded once more of the birdfoot Xs etched in snow. The lines of the X, its bones, cross through one another on their diagonal journeys, each holding, for a moment, a bit of the other as they meet. So these momentary, centered lines hold a bit of the poem’s past and a bit of its future. The solitary pearl cast its glow upward to illuminate the dying season and downward to blend with the opening morning. “I remember” touches the “black-and-silver crisscross” of the formal party and the enigmatic, stiff grave of another season. What a “gentle and just pleasure it is,” Avison tells us, to know that a dark, cosmic-cast wind can, on occasion, smooth itself to stillness, just there at a windowledge, just there at our fingertips.

Or perhaps those compressed and centered lines, like stones dropped in a pond, create a concentric movement. This poem denies no journey. As its closing words circle back to its title, we might feel, also, that the poem’s final destination has always been the interior—which has, in turn, been its point of departure: the reflective human mind, unchilled and habitable, holding simultaneously what has fallen and will fall.

Linda Bierds on Margaret Avison’s “New Year's Poem” from Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems. Copyright 2007 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with permission of the author and the University of Illinois Press.

New Year's Poem

By Margaret Avison 1918–2007 Margaret Avison
 Margaret  Avison


Margaret Avison was born in Galt, Ontario, Canada, and lived for many years in Toronto. She received a BA and an MA from the University of Toronto and worked as a librarian, social worker, and teacher, writing her poetry in the evenings. Avison’s collections of poetry include Winter Sun (1960), Dumbfounding (1966), Sunblue (1978), No Time (1990), Concrete and Wild Carrot (2002), and Momentary Dark (2006). Avison became a . . .

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Poems by Margaret Avison


Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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